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Two Serpents Rise, the second volume in Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence, continues to blend of fantasy and suspense in a world where religion and Craft - faith and magic - are sometimes complementary, and sometimes drastically opposed. In the first volume, we saw religion and Craft co-existing in relative harmony, in a city controlled by a god but depending on Craft to assess the situation when things go terribly wrong. In this installment, a practitioner of Craft fought with and destroyed a god, taking control of the territory it ruled for himself, driving the old priests underground. Where the god of Alt Coloumb was a relatively benign god, asking only the standard tribute of prayer and devotion, the gods in this case were of the sort that demanded ritual sacrifice, living hearts cut from human bodies and offered to the gods. The King in Red, the Craftsman who killed the gods, lost his lover to the altar stone.

The setting is the vast city of Dresediel Lex, built in the desert, dependent on the Craft of Red King Consolidated, its leading Concern - a magical conglomerate of people, energies and legal bindings - to supply the water its people need to survive. In order to expand its power base, RKC is on the midst of negotiations to merge with Heartstone, another Concern that manipulates the energies of two bound and sleeping demi-gods who take the shape of giant serpents.

When one of the the main reservoirs the city relies on is magically infested with tzimet, monsters that could poison the water and kill millions, Caleb Altemoc, one of RKC's risk management team, is called in to deal with the situation and ensure that it does not damage negotiations with Heartstone. He has several suspects to follow up on: the old priests, who have been waging guerilla warfare against the new order, and whose leader, the firmer high priest, is Caleb's father; and a mysterious 'cliff runner' - the ultimate in parkour - named Mal, who turns out to be a senior official with Heartstone. The problem is, both insist they are innocent. As incidents threatening the water supply multiply, it's up to Caleb to discover the truth behind them. And save the city.

It took me a little longer to get into this novel than the previous one in the series, probably because of the father-son conflict - it is such a common trope that I've developed a bit of an allergy to it through overexposure. But as the story developed and other layers were added, I became quite happily engaged with the story and its themes.

And I'm becoming quite intrigued with the ideas that Gladstone is working with in these novels. So far, in addition to the obvious question of the role and importance of faith in human nature, there are definite issues of the nature of good governance and the way that people, governments, financial systems and ecologies are interconnected. The legal language of the Craft and the flows of energy, devotion and 'soulstuff' in the novels are literalisations of the way that multiple systems in societies, and multiple societies, are entwined and affect one another. Very interesting stuff.

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Fatima Mernissi's The Forgotten Queens of Islam is framed as a direct response to the outcry against the election of Benazir Bhutto as Prime Minister of Pakistan in 1988. In telling the story of the women who have previously held political power of the Islamic world, Mernissi is countering both the resistance to women being active in public life, and the tendency of male historians to overlook the contributions of women.

When Benazir Bhutto became Prime Minister of Pakistan after winning the elections of 16 November 1988, all who monopolized the right to speak in the name of Islam, and especially Nawaz Sharif, the leader of the then Opposition, the IDA (Islamic Democratic Alliance), raised the cry of blasphemy: 'Never - horrors! - has a Muslim state been governed by a woman!' Invoking Islamic tradition, they decried this event as 'against nature'. Political decision-making among our ancestors, they said, was always a men's affair. Throughout 15 centuries of Islam, from year 1 of the Hejira (AD 622) to today, the conduct of public affairs in Muslim countries has been a uniquely male privilege and monopoly. No woman ever acceded to a throne in Islam; no woman ever directed the affairs of state, we are told by those who claim to speak for Islam and who make its defence their battle cry against other Muslims. And, so they say, since no woman had ever governed a Muslim state between 622 and 1988, Benazir Bhutto could not aspire to do so either.

Because the concept of separation of church and state, of religious and secular authority, is not a uniformly accepted thing in the Islamic world, Mernissi takes care to differentiate between caliph and mulk, between the leader whose authority is divine, who can claim descent from the Prophet, and the leader whose authority is only of the world.

The caliphate is the opposite of mulk in that it represents an authority that obeys divine law, the shari'a, which is imposed on the leader himself and makes his own passions illegitimate. And therein, Ibn Khaldun explains to us, lies the greatness of Islam as a political system. The caliph is tied by divine law, his desires and passions checked, while the king recognizes no superior law. As a result, the caliphate has another advantage that mulk lacks. Mulk deals solely with the management of earthly interests, while the caliphate, given its spiritual nature, is also in charge of the Beyond.

Mernissi goes on to explain that in the Islamic workd, a woman can not be a caliph, but that she can - if she is able to negotiate her society's networks of secular power - become a mulk.

Not just anyone can claim to be a caliph; access to this privilege is subject to strict criteria. By contrast, titles like sultan, the linguistic origin of which is salata (dominate), and malik (king), which has the same connotation of raw power not tempered by religion, are available to anybody. And that is why women can carry them; they do not imply or signify any divine mission. But women could never lay claim to the title of caliph. The secret of the exclusion of women lies in the criteria of eligibility to be a caliph.

But even though there have been no female Caliphs, Mernissi finds examples of many women who have held other titles which speak to their exercise of secular power - sultanas, malikas, al-hurras, sitts, sharifas, amiras, khatuns. But in examining the rise to power, and subsequent fall of many of these women, Mernissi frames the history of female political power in Islam as a struggle between women seeking power and the line of male caliphs, whose claim to spiritual power places them, at least in theory, above any secular leader, male or female.

... this one constant endured throughout the empire and its states: as soon as a woman came close to the throne, a group whose interests she threatened appeared on the scene and challenged her in the name of the spiritual, the name of the shari'a.

In writing this history of female leadership in the Muslim world, Mernissi is not just telling histories of the queens and their deeds. Rather, she is using the history of these women to explore what female power means in the Islamic context, examining how it occurs, what forms it takes and limitations it encounters, how it is understood in the Muslim political tradition of male-led theocratic institutions. In her examination of the meanings of women's political power in the Muslim world, Mernissi's text discusses the instances of secular rule - whether failed or successful - of women across a range of states and eras, begining with the first woman to assume secular authority in a Muslim community - A'isha, the widow of Mohammed.

A'isha was the first woman to transgress the hudud (limits), to violate the boundary between the territory of women and that of men, to incite to kill, even though the act of war is the privilege of men and belongs to territory outside the harem. A woman does not have the right to kill. Deciding on war is the function and raison d'etre of men. 'A'isha, as the first woman who took a political decision by leading armed men, remains forever linked in Muslim memory with fitna (disorder and destruction).

Just as she draws a distinction between the highest position of power, the caliphate, which being both religious and political in nature can not be held by a woman, and the mulk, which is a secular leadership that some women can achieve, Mernissi also differentiates between sovereign secular power and other forms of leadership. In the Muslim state, the primary signifier of true sovereignty is the proclamation of the head of state in the khutba, the Friday sermon.

The Friday khutba is both the mirror and the reflection of what is going on in the political scene. In the case of war, one learns what is happening at the front by listening: the name of the sovereign that is mentioned is the one who currently controls the territory by military means. And the name changes with events in periods of political trouble.

Mernissi notes that very few women have held this level of sovereignty - rather, most who have, by
Western appraisals, indubitably ruled, have done so while invoking the sovereignty of another, a man. A second indicator of sovereignty - the minting of coins with the sovereign's name - has likewise been limited to a very few among the women who have held power. Mernissi refers to the work of another modern scholar, historian Badriye Ucok Un, who identified 16 women who have held sovereignty in Muslim history by both criteria - none of whom ruled in Arab states, but rather held power in Muslim states in Asia (largely in those under Mongol control) Turkey (including Egypt under Mamluk rule) Iran, and Indonesia and other south Asian island states. Mernissi adds to this list two women rulers in Yemen whose sovereignty was proclaimed by khutba, but whose existence appears to have been, not just forgotten, but actively suppressed - not just because they were women, but also because they were Shi'ite monarchs.

After her discussion of women rulers of the past, Mernissi returns to the implications of Benazir Bhutto's election. In the election of a woman to sovereign power, two key aspects of the traditions of leadership in the Muslim world were broken - the assertion of a woman's will, to rule in her own right, and the aristocratic tradition of rule by dynastic elites, gaining sovereignty by association or inheritance (including all of the sovereign queens) or conquest.

That is why, as the fundamentalists well understand, the election of Benazir Bhutto constituted a total break with caliphal Islam. It represented the dual emergence on the political scene of that which is veiled and that which is obscene: the will of women and that of the people.

What began as an exploration of female rule in the Muslim world ends as a question about the future of both universal suffrage and democracy in a tradition that has long vested power in a male-dominated aristocracy in which secular power depends on religious authority.

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In Black London: Life before Emancipation, Gretchen Garzina looks at the history of black people in England, a history that - despite the common belief of many - stretches back for centuries. In her Introduction, Grezina sets out her intention to document the black presence in England which, as stated in a quotation from scholar Peter Freyer, 'goes back some 2,000 years and has been continuous since the beginning of the sixteenth century or earlier.’ Grezina goes on to identify the scope of the sources she draws on:
While nearly five centuries have passed since the beginning of that continuous presence, a vivid trail of diaries, memoirs, public records and pictures remains. The satirical prints sold by seventeenth-, eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century booksellers still appear in shop windows on the King’s Road and in Bloomsbury; the dozens of novels containing black characters from the same period are still in many libraries. My task in this book is to reconstruct London, and indeed the entire country, by altering our vision.
Beginning with the presence of black entertainers and servants in the courts of Queen Elizabeth, and the slave trade which she supported - although she also expressed concern at the number of black people entering England, slave or free, who threatened the livelihood of white Britons - there have been black people living and working in Britain. What Gerzina achieves here is to paint a detailed picture of their lives, of the range of black experiences, from honoured courtiers to enslaved workers.
... once the lens through which we view the eighteenth century is refocused, the London of Johnson, Reynolds, Hogarth and Pope—that elegant, feisty, intellectual and earthy place of neo-classicism and city chaos—becomes occupied by a parallel world of Africans and their descendants working and living alongside the English. They answer their doors, run their errands, carry their purchases, wear their livery, appear in their lawcourts, play their music, drink in their taverns, write in their newspapers, appear in their novels, poems and plays, sit for their portraits, appear in their caricatures and marry their servants. They also have private lives and baptize their own children, attend schools, bury their dead. They are everywhere in the pictures we have all seen and the pages we have turned. They were as familiar a sight to Shakespeare as they were to Garrick, and almost as familiar to both as they are to Londoners today.
Grezina also explores the legal cases touching on the issue of the legitimacy of slavery in Britain, illustrating the slow evolution in law of abolitionist ideas. She spends considerable time on the 1772 Somerset v. Stewart case which, despite its narrow applicability - resolving only the question of whether one man, James Somerset, was to be considered slave or free under British law - became a significant precedent and influenced the politics of slavery far beyond the effect specified by the judge, William Murray, Lord Mansfield (who was the great-uncle and guardian of Dido Elizabeth Belle [2])
All over Britain and America, slaves, abolitionists, lawyers and judges cited the Somerset case as ending slavery in Britain, a precedent which many saw as applying to America as well: slaves who crossed into free states with their masters, even temporarily, tested the legality of slavery. Despite Mansfield’s many pains to reassert the deliberate narrowness of his decision, he seemed powerless to stem the tide of misinterpretation, demonstrating ‘a legal world where things are not what they seem, a world of deceptive appearances and unforeseen consequences’.... Despite the decision, slaves were still sold and sent out of the country for years afterward, often quite openly.
As unrest grew in the American colonies, British colonial governors began to offer escaped slaves and freedom in return for enrolling in the British armies. These freedmen fought for the British side and after the Revolution, many - though not all - were evacuated, along with other British Loyalists. Ironically, many of these free blacks sailed alongside white Loyalists departing for other British colonies with their slaves. In all, approximately 14,000 free blacks were transported to Nova Scotia, Jamaica, St Lucia, Nassau and England. Unfortunately, the British Empire was not prepared for such an influx of free black displaced British citizens.
Up until 1783 Britain’s black population consisted mainly of servants and former servants, musicians and seamen. Suddenly, with the end of the war with America, England felt itself ‘overwhelmed’ by an influx of black soldiers who had served the loyalist cause and who crossed the Atlantic for their promised freedom and compensation. Refugees from slavery shuttled between the West Indies, America, Canada, Europe and Africa looking for freedom, homes and work in a western world still financially dependent upon slavery and the slave trade. There was, it seemed, no safe harbour, no one to trust, no way to escape the effects of the African diaspora and 250 years of the triangular trade.
British response to the increase of the black population was, ultimately, to try to get rid of it. Grezina details the disastrous history of the scene to resettle as many blacks as possible from Britain to Sierra Leone, noting that "From beginning to end, even with the most altruistic and charitable of motives, England’s involvement with the Sierra Leone colony had involved intrigue, greed and poor planning." After suffering years of mismanagement, chaos, and neglect, the situation in the colony finally began to improve with the arrival of a second group of black settlers from Nova Scotia.

Ironically, once the government plan to send blacks from Britain to Sierra Leone was embarked upon, the momentum of the abolitionist movement in Britain began to build up speed. In the last section of her book, Grezina examines the key events marking the movement's progress, ending in the adoption on March 25, 1807, of a bill stating that as of 1 January 1808 the slave trade was to be ‘utterly abolished, prohibited and declared to be unlawful’.

Grezina's work is well- and widely-researched, highly readable, and full of detail that brings to life both the experience of black people in the heart of England and the struggle for freedom.

[1] Peter Fryer, Black People in the British Empire: An Introduction

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Liliian Faderman's book, To Believe in Women: What Lesbians Have Done for America - A History, examines the contribution of American women we would now identify as lesbians to various areas of endeavour, including the women's suffrage movement, the settlement house movement, the establishment of higher education institutions for women, and the entry of women into the professions.

It is difficult to look back into the past and determine with absolute certainty the sexual lives of many of the women Faderman describes as lesbians. Certainly there is a long history of women forming "passionate friendships" and "Boston marriages," as such intensely intimate emotional and domestic relationships were variously called, and it is only reasonable to assume that many of the women in such relationships were romantically and sexually involved as well. But this style of intense friendship was also found between women who married and lived traditional heterosexual lives, and it is quite conceivable that unmarried heterosexual women would seek friendship and convenience in non-sexual domestic arrangements. However, Faderman chooses to assume that most if not all the unmarried women in these various movements, and particularly those who formed households with other women, were what we today would call lesbians.

In this book, Faderman tells the stories of some of the American women she identifies as lesbians who were involved in these significant areas of American political and social action. She proposes the theory that disproportionate numbers of lesbians were leaders and key supporters of these movements because they were free of the obligations of heterosexual marriage - taking care of husband, home, children - and instead had the opportunity to form relationships with women who were either supportive of them, or who actively worked beside them. She further argues that without the leadership and example of lesbians, who needed the greater freedom demanded by the suffragettes in order to support themselves without the help of men, heterosexual women alone could not have won, or held onto, the freedoms gained by the movement.

One thing I find myself wondering about in reading Faderman's book is whether this heightened presence of lesbians in social activism in the 19th and early 20th centuries is a universal phenomenon or something peculiar to American life. I'm not aware of any similar research that has been done, say, in Canada or Britain, but I do know that where Faderman can name scores of unmarried women leaders in the American suffrage movement, I can only think of a few Canadian women suffragists who remained unmarried (Agnes MacPhail being one such) and the only out lesbian who comes to mind is Charlotte Whitton. However, that could well be a result of a lack of research on this point.

In recounting this narrative of the pre-eminent role played by lesbians in the advancement of women's rights, Faderman also looks at changes over time in attitudes toward and acceptance of "manly" women and intimate relationships between women. She notes that before the work of theorists such as Freud and Kraft-Ebbling, such relationships were not stigmatised, and she paints a picture of whole communities of high-status, activist lesbians acknowledging their relationships within the communities, vacationing together, visiting each other as couples, providing emotional support when separation or death left one of their number in distress.

However, Faderman argues, as psychological theories of inversion and sexual pathology became widely known and adopted, disapproval grew and women involved in relationships with other women began to internalize feelings of being psychologically lacking. Many engaged in self-denial that they were lesbians like those described in medical literature, or made attempts to conceal their relationships from the public eye.

This growing awareness and stigmatisation of lesbians, "inverts" and "manly women" provoked fears among high-status males that there would be no women left to raise their children and keep their houses: "but who will bake the pies?" As well, penchant for eugenics that was common in upper-class, predominantly white circles in the early 20th century led to alarms over the higher marriage and birth rates among uneducated, black and immigrant women, raising fears of "race suicide" among middle and upperclass educated white women. Psychiatric theory that posited heterosexuality and conspicuous femininity as the natural expression of psychological health and maturity led to the perception of the educated, single or working woman as unnatural, unhealthy and immature. These developments, Faderman suggests, had the dual effect of limiting the influence of lesbian leaders and pioneers in the professions, and discouraging heterosexual women from even considering any future other than marriage.

Thus, after almost a century of strong female leadership (often by lesbians) in suffrage, labour, social welfare and women's education movements, the 1920s and 1930s saw a decline in women in positions of power and authority in these areas. Further, higher education for women was redefined, returning to the concept of educating women to be wives and mothers, not professionals.
Women steadily lost ground in the professions. By the 1940s, as a statistician for the U.S. Women's Bureau observed, more than three quarters of the women who were listed in the census of occupations under "Professional" were in the lower-prestige, lower-salaried jobs of teachers and nurses. "The traditional learned professions of law, medicine, and theology," the statistician wrote in 1947, "accounted for almost 24 percent of the men grouped as professional and semi-professional workers, but the proportion of women in these fields was relatively so insignificant (all of them together less than 1 percent)" that she could not show them separately in her statistical summary.
It is my strong feeling that Faderman, whose other work on the history of women who chose to have intimate emotional and romantic (and in some cases certainly sexual) relationships with other women I have enjoyed and admired, overstates her case in this book.

Again and again, Faderman suggests that only unmarried women could possibly have done the kind of pioneering work in the suffrage movement and in the professions that the women she writes about did, and that most of those women who resisted the "heterosexual imperative" of marriage must have been lesbians. Setting aside the fact that for most of this period, there was no true sense of sexual identity as there is today, this argument is gainsaid from the start by Faderman's own inclusion of statistics that show that significant percentages (though rarely if ever majorities) of women in the suffrage movement and in the professions were married to men.

Further, Faderman neglects the fact that even in the mid-1800s, there were men who embraced the thought of women in the professions, and women in political life. Not many, but enough that some married women might well have had the active support of their male partners. Others might have been given grudging permission - "I don't care what you do as long as supper's on the table on time every day." Married upper and upper-middle class women, if they were committed to a movement or a career, could well have found the time to devote themselves outside of the house by relying on paid labour to care for house and children. And, just as they did in England, married working class women could surely have made the sacrifices necessary for a cause they believed in. It's not just a black and white choice between marrying and being a housewife with no time or energy to study and work, or turning one's back on all heterosexual expression and becoming a lesbian.

I certainly do not dispute that in general, women who were unmarried for whatever reason would have had fewer demands on their time than most married women, and further that they would have been aware of the need to find ways to support themselves - but it is undeniable that some women did take up the cause of suffrage, or engage in the professions, while married to men, and even while having children.

Nor do I dispute the idea that a significant proportion of the unmarried women who were active in these areas were what we might now classify as lesbian or bisexual - but it is not appropriate to identify as lesbians all unmarried women who found women to share their work and homes and aspirations and emotional lives with. Ours has always been a homosocial society - women and men, married or unmarried, have largely found emotional, intellectual and social satisfaction in the company of members of their own sex. It's cheaper and more pleasant to live with someone, and many people do so for long periods of time without being sexually involved.

Faderman further suggests, in an uncomfortably patronising fashion, that heterosexual women would not have entered the professions at all if lesbians had not taken the responsibility for "elevating" all women to the consciousness they had achieved.
Lesbian professional women continued to recognize what was at stake if they could not elevate the status of women. However, they lived in a very different world from that of heterosexual women, who generally did not have the same motives to spur them in the arduous struggles toward a profession.
Indeed, by Faderman's account, it was not until the mid-60s, with the beginning of second wave feminism in response to a growing climate of support for civil rights, that heterosexual women were finally able to follow their lesbian sisters out of the home and into the world.
By making gender discrimination illegal, the 1964 Civil Rights Act helped to herald a new mood with regard to women. Thus the space created many decades earlier by the lesbian pioneers—where women might assume what Stearn scoffingly called "active role[s] in outside affairs"—could finally begin to be inhabited by a broad spectrum of American women.
Faderman concludes the book with a summary of the advances made by women since 1964 in politics, the professions, and in challenging a sexist society. While she acknowledges that these advances have been accomplished by lesbians and heterosexual women working side by side, she repeats the argument that it was lesbians - and, it seems, only lesbians - who made it possible.
But over the past two decades, American women have resumed the progress that was put on hold for a half-century, taking up where the lesbian pioneers left off. The ambitions of the pioneers have spread to large numbers of heterosexual women.
Faderman ends with several comments on reclaiming lesbian history and establishing lesbian heroes and role models that I heartily agree with. The "disappearing" of queer people of all kinds and their contributions to the panorama of human history is a trend that must be reversed, and Faderman has done much solid work to bring this about. Certainly, some of the most enjoyable passages in this book are the stories of women who were almost certainly lesbians whose accomplishments were significant and profound. However, in highlighting the undeniable influence of these women on the long struggle for women's liberation, it seems to me that Faderman has constructed a narrative of bold lesbian pioneers and easily cowed and manipulated heterosexual women that almost reverses the situation, creating an argument that, if followed to its logical conclusions, "disappears" the heterosexual women who also fought for women's freedoms.

So... Lesbians in the forefront of the struggle (alongside married and unmarried heterosexual women)? Of course. All women in the struggle as lesbians? Not bloody likely. Lesbians having an easier time finding energy and emotional support for the struggle? Quite possible. All other women just giving up because the demands from husband and family were too great? Demonstrably untrue and rather insulting to those married heterosexual and bisexual women who were also part of the struggle. Focus on the lives and accomplishments of women-identified women who made history? Go for it, sister. Add in an argument that women-identified women were the only leaders and heterosexual women couldn't have achieved anything without their pioneering leadership? Not cool.

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In The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, Thomas King writes about the history of relations in North America between (mostly) white invader/settler culture and the indigenous cultures with wit and anger. The result is brilliant but uncomfortable for the white reader - which is as it should be.

Not so much a history itself as an examination and re-interpretation of history as it has been written by the dominant (i.e., white) culture, The Inconvenient Indian exposes the false stories that white North Americans have told themselves about Aboriginal peoples, and speaks instead of truths that have been forgotten, or never told - at least, not in settler stories. King is very conscious of how the kinds of narratives that a culture retains affect the perceptions and actions of its people, and makes very clear how the master narratives about Indians support and justify the ongoing colonial project to deceive, steal from, disenfranchise, disentitle, assimilate and ultimately exterminate Native peoples.

As reviewer Hans Tammemagi notes:
Most of all, he builds an impressive case regarding how Natives have been treated. King scathingly debunks the role given to Natives in contemporary history and convincingly shows that Natives have been duped, massacred, assimilated, and dealt with deceitfully since the start of colonization — and, he stresses, this continues today. Although The Inconvenient Indian takes a lighthearted approach, beneath the surface it seethes with rage.(

This is a book that every non-Aboriginal North American should read.

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In The Welsh Kings: Warriors, Warlords and Princes, historian Kari Maund offers a rich and detailed summary of the complex political and military history of mediaeval Wales from the end of Roman rule to the defeat of Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Prince of Wales. Maund's book is narrowly focused, with no attention paid to the cultural, social, economic or religious history of Wales; it is rather, as one reviewer notes, "a journey through the endless dynastic infighting of mediaeval Wales." [1]

As such, this is not, I suspect, a book for the casual reader with little or no previous knowledge of Welsh history. Politically speaking, mediaeval Wales was divided into many small kingdoms; only on rare occasions would one man be able to bring a majority of these under one united rule, and none of these remarkable rulers were ever able to found a lasting dynasty. Wales had only a weak cultural tradition of single-successor inheritance (whether based on primogeniture or some other basis, such as the tanistry system found in Ireland or Scotland); more often than not, lands and lordship were divided between sons, leaving little opportunity for the creation of a dynasty by amassing power and wealth over time and concentrating this wealth and power in the hands of a single heir. Thus the few men who were truly Princes of Wales - Hywel Dda, Maredudd ab Owain, Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd - gained and held their crowns through a combination of dynastically-conscious marriages, conquest, political diplomacy, personal charisma and occasionally alliances with external powers.

Maund follows the multiple lines of kingship in the various kingdoms of mediaeval Wales - Gwynedd, Deheubarth, Powys and Gwent being the largest and most powerful - paying particular attention to the great princes who did achieve sone measure of influence over most of Wales.

A storehouse of information about the many royal houses of Wales this would make an excellent reference work for anyone with an interest in the subject, but is probably not a book for the casual reader.


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No author who chooses to write about Egypt in the 18th Dynasty, and in particular the Amarna period, can ignore three crucial questions: "whatever happened to Nefertiti," "just who the hell was Smenkhare," and "who were Tutankhamen's parents." Equally true, any speculations on these questions advanced prior to the 2010 announcement of the results of DNA testing on the remains of Tutankhamen and a number of other mummified remains, some previously identified (such the the mummy known as "the Older Lady, now identified as Tiye, wife of Amenhotep III) and some known only by the numbering of their burial chambres (such as KV55, often believed to have been Smenkhare) and KV35YL, also known as the Younger Lady), must be re-evaluated in light of scientific data unavailable when those speculations were originally made.

Christine El-Mahdy, writing before the DNA testing, proposes interesting, plausible, and, at least in part, still viable answers to the first two questions, and as many other Egyptologists had done, goes astray on the third. Through careful analysis of inscriptions dating back to Akhenaten's grandparents, El-Mahdy proposes a timeline consisting of a series of co-regnancies and intermarriages between the royal family and another powerful family of hereditary court officials which challenges many of the commonly-held perceptions of the politics of the Amarna period. Her elegant solution to the questions dealing with Nefertiti and Smenkhare (one also proposed by other Egyptologists) is that they are, in fact, the same person. Nefertiti disappears from inscriptions as Smenkhare, the mysterious figure chosen as co-ruler by Akhenaten himself, appears, they share many titles and epithets, and Nefertiti was a powerful queen who already shared many of the Pharoah's royal duties. Why did this change in her status, from Great Wife Nefertiti to co-ruler Smenkhare, occur, and why at just that time? El-Madhy, through analysis of regnal numbers and other time-sensitive data, concludes that Akhenaten, who was personally unsuited to kingship, a dreamer and philosopher, never actually ruled alone; that he was co-ruler with his father Amenhotep III for the first 12 years of his reign, and then co-ruler with Nefertiti/Smenkhare for the remainder of his reign, until his death. Nefertiti, having taken as a ceremonial Great Wife her own daughter Meritaten, then ruled alone for a few years following her husband's death, until both she and Meritaten disappear and Tutankhamen, now married to the last surviving daughter of Akhenaten and Nefertiti, comes to the throne, a boy king who himself will not rule long.

Nothing in the DNA findings invalidates any of this. What it does invalidate is El-Mahdy's theory that when Nefertiti became co-rulet, taking a Great Wife of her own, Akhenaten chose as his new official consort a secondary wife known as Kiya (who El-Mahdy identifies with a Mittani princess originally intended to be a secondary wife of Amenhotep III, but who arrived in Egypt after the older king's death) who gave birth in the following year to Tutankamen.

We now know that Tutankhamen's parents were the two mummies known as KV55 and KV35YL, and that the most commonly advanced interpretation of the DNA results indicates that these two individuals were full brother and sister, both children of Amenhotep III and his wife Tiye. The age at death of KV55 has been debated, sone estimates place him as young as 20, some as old as 40. Amunhotep had two known sons, Thutmose, who died in late adolescence of unknown causes, and Akhenaten. Unless there was a third unmentioned son (perhaps the mysterious Smenkhare?), KV55 is Akhenaton, as Thutmose died long before Tutankhamen could have been conceived.

It should be noted that a minority interpretation of the DNA suggests that KV35YL could have been, not Akhenaten's sister, but Nefertiti, who is thought by some Egyptologists (including El-Mahdy) to have been Akhenaten's first cousin and the daughter of a bloodline that had provided three generations of wives to the 18th Dynasty kings - a situation which could statistically have produced a commonality of genetic material in the same range as a sibling relationship.

El-Mahdy, while proven wrong in some of her conclusions by the DNA evidence, provides some interesting insights and theories about many of the other mysteries of the late 18th Dynasty. Her writing is accessible to a general readership and she explains many of the complexities associated with the questions surrounding the Amarna period with clarity. The book itself is a fascinating look at the processes historians and archeologists must go through in sorting through often conflicting theories and inconclusive evidence in an attempt to discover "what really happened" in any era.

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An interesting read for those fascinated by the details of life in different times and places, this look at daily life at the beginning of the 19th century is supported by extensive excerpts from contemporary sources, including references to Austen's life and works. Topics range from birth to marriage to death and burial, with many of the less significant events of life equally well covered, and Adkins does a fair job of showing the differences in manner of living due to wealth and class.

Informative and interesting - but I still don't know exactly what a "puppy" is or why Augusta Elton (nee Hawkins) should have had such a horror of them - though I have some ideas.

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In The Rape of the Nile, Brian Fagan tells the story of centuries of theft and destruction of priceless artefacts and archeological sites, largely by foreign invaders and adventurers, but also by Egyptians themselves. The catalogue of loss is a long one, and includes Roman conquerers, medieval adventurers, Napoleonic soldiers and historians, British entrepreneurs and archeologists - all of whom felt that the treasures of the ancient land of Egypt were theirs for the taking.
During the past two thousand years Ancient Egypt has effectively been destroyed, both by the Egyptians themselves and by a host of foreigners, many of them arriving in the Nile Valley in the name of science and nationalism. The loss to archaeology is incalculable, that to Egyptian history even more staggering. As a result of the looting and pillage of generations of irresponsible visitors, the artifacts and artistic achievements of the Ancient Egyptians are scattered all over the globe, some of the most beautiful and spectacular of them stored or displayed thousands of miles from the Nile.
Fagan's detailed accounting of the discoveries and wholesale removals of the cultural wealth of an entire civilisation - often in more recent times under the paternalistic colonial argument that Western institutions can take better care of Egypt's heritage than Egyptians can - is valuable both as a record of the development of Egyptology and as a testament to the necessity of cultural sensitivity on the part of archeologists, and cultural preservation on the part of countries such as Egypt whose history has been turned into a tourist bazaar.

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An early work by the acclaimed writer on religious issues Karen Armstrong, The First Christian: St. Paul's Impact on Christianity, explores the life and writings of St. Paul, giving insight both into how his became the voice that shaped the philosophical core of Christianity, and why it was his views that prevailed over those of other early interpreters of christian ideas and ideals.

It places the source of many key elements of Pauline Christianity - the most important of these for me being the anti-sex and anti-woman sentiments that strongly informed church teachings - in the cultural milieu, the nature and survival needs of the nascent Christian church, and the deeply felt millennialism of Paul himself.

Interesting read for anyone curious about the history of religions in general or Christianity in particular.

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Life's been too much of a bitch for me to keep on writing about books much, but I still read, and I may as well at least post lists of what I read this past year. Here's the first list.


Much of the of the non-fiction I read was a bit of a hodge-podge. Cultural/political studies, feminism, history, biography. All in its way interesting and nothing I regret reading.

Helen Merrick, The Secret Feminist Cabal: A Cultural History of Science Fiction Feminisms

Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender

Adam Kotsko, Why We Love Sociopaths: A Guide to Late Capitalist Television
Arundahti Roy, Talking to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy
Tim Wise, Dear White America: Letter to a New Minority

Lillian Faderman, Naked in the Promised Land

Alison Weir, The Wars of the Roses
Leanda de Lisle, Tudor: The Family Story

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The Six Wives of Henry VIII, Alison Weir

I have a fascination with the Tudor and Elizabethan periods of English history. And I know I’m not alone in that. You only have to look at all the film and TV treatments of various key periods and people of the period to know that I’m far from the only one to obsess over this particular time and place.

However, while I’ve read a fair amount about the real Elizabeth I (as opposed to the various dramatic and fictionalised versions of her), I haven’t been quite so drawn to the more scholarly views of Henry VIII’s court until now. A recent re-viewing of the 1970 BBC miniseries about Henry VIII and his many wives made me want to dig a little deeper into the reality behind the various depictions of Henry’s women – Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr.

Weir’s book seems an excellent place to begin. Covering the lives of all six women – and of Henry himself in relation to them and to his dynastic ambitions - The Six Wives of Henry VIII provides well-researched pictures of each woman, her family and upbringing, the circumstances that brought to into Henry’s life, the nature of her relationship with the king and with other political and religious figures, the end of her marriage, and for the few who survived life with Henry (Anne of Cleves and Catherine Parr), their own later years.

One thing that I liked about Weir’s take on these women was her willingness to look at them as people who were trapped by the limitations placed on any woman, and especially on women of politically significant families, whether royal or noble, how this affected all of them, and most notably those – Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Parr –with extraordinary gifts of intellect and, in the case of Catherine of Aragon, leadership.

I suspect that one of these days I’ll follow up with a few more historical interpretations of the lives of these women (I’m particularly interested in an alternative view of Catherine Howard, who has always seemed, to me, to have had the worst reputation and the least defense), but this has certainly been an excellent and entertaining beginning.

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1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus, Charles Mann

If you're my age, and white, and went to school in North America, and watched all those Westerns (movies and TV) set in the American west, then you probably grew up with a very specific image of the way things were before the "coming of the white man." Except for small bands of Indians roaming across the plains, or living in huts or tents in the woods, the continent was wide open, virgin territory (ah, the sexualisation of colonialism, ain't it grand) ripe and waiting for some truly civilised people to come and exert the Biblical promise of dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.

Hopefully, everyone today knows that all of that is just so much racist, imperialist bullshit.

As Mann commented in an interview in Indian Country Today:
Indians are constantly presented as timeless essences, people who have never changed in thousands of years. But that is to say that they have no history - the only people on Earth who don't change their surroundings or interact with others. And they only enter history when Europeans come into the picture. In social-science jargon, Indians are depicted as lacking agency. Agency includes both doing the right thing and going off in a direction you later wish you hadn't. You could sum up my approach as trying to write a history in which I made sure the Indians had agency.
This book gives a clear indication of the vast scope of human history, civilisation, culture, cultivation, technological advancement and managment (and sometimes mismanagment) of the natural environment that was really how it was among the nations of the Americas before the European imperialist project landed on them with a plague of smallpox, and it is a most effective antidote to the racist myths of my youth.
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A People’s History of the United States: 1492 - Present, Howard Zinn

I will admit, I'm not all that knowledgeable about American history - not so shocking, considering that I'm not an American - but since the U.S. has had and continues to have such an enormous influence on its neighbours and on the world as a whole, I am occasionally drawn to reading Americna history on the grounds that it is always helpful to know as much as you can, especially about things that can be perceived as threats.

Zinn's book is just what I needed. He tells the history of the U.S., not in terms of dates and political, military or industrial leaders, but in terms of the perspectives of the people. Not the elites, but the average person: settlers, Aboriginal North Americans, farmers, trade unionists, workers, blacks, immigrants, women.

This is a book I will go back to, for insights into what was happening to the real people of America at various times when the otehr history books are talking about legislators and elections and wars.

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Orientalism, Edward Said

I have, at long last, read this classic work that is considered to be one of the foundations of post-colonial studies. As I understand it, Said's underlying premise - one that is now very much a part of post-colonial criticism and political activism - is that the colonial and imperial cultures of Europe (and North America), by the very fact of their colonial and imperial position, create images of colonised nations and peoples that are not congruent with how these colonised people and nations perceive themselves, or with the realities of life and culture in these nations and among these peoples. Nonetheless, colonial powers, even after they lose direct control of colonised people, continue to impose these images from a position of assumed superiority, and this colours all discourse in colonial and former colonial powers about the colonised nations and peoples. The representation of a colonial nation in literature, art, and other cultural artefacts, becomes the nation itself, in Western eyes, and all discourse - including consideration of current economic and political policy - occurs within the framework imposed by the representation.

Said applies this premise to an examination of Orientalism - at the time of his writing (in 1978) the term used to describe the academic field of study devoted to the literature, history and culture of countries of "The Orient" - with particular focus on how Orientalists represented in their work the cultures of the Middle East.

It is a fascinating jounrney through the processes by which first, all Islamic, Arab and Middle-Eastern cultures are elided into one, and that one is represented as both oppositional and inferior to Western cultures in very specific ways.

What is particularly important about Said's argument is that he directly connects cultural representations with political ideology and goals:
Too often literature and culture are presumed to be politically, even historically, innocent; it has regularly semed otherwise to me, and certainly my study of Orientalism has convinced me... that society and literary culture can only be understood and studies together. (p. 27)

My whole point about this system is not that it is a misrepresentation of some Oriental essence — in which I do not for a moment believe — but that it operates as representations usually do, for a purpose, according to a tendency, in a specific historical, intellectual, and even economic setting. In other words, representations have purposes, they are effective much of the time, they accomplish one or many tasks. (p. 273)
While I had gleaned many of the principles of Said's arguemnts from later discourses in both post-colonial literary criticism and political theory, it was well worth it to go back to the beginning and look at the evidence, so to speak.

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Civilizations: Culture, Ambition, and the Transformation of Nature, by Felipe Fernández-Armesto

Scholars of history have conceived of a great many schemes for dividing human societies and civilisations into groups, ranging from such basic identifiers as time and place - where they are/were in the world, the time in which they flourished – to linguistic and ethnic groupings to social characteristics such as kinship customs or political organisations. In Civilizations, Felipe Fernández-Armesto has chosen instead to organise this overview of many of the world’s cultures, past and present, according to the nature of the physical environment in which they developed. In the process, broad themes about how humans adapt, modify, or adapt to specific kinds of environments emerge and allow us to look at the history of humans on this planet in new and thought-provoking ways.
The result of Felipe Fernandez-Armesto's work is a series of startling and illuminating juxtapositions - the maritime civilizations of the Venetians and the Polynesians; the mountain cultures of Tibet and Papua New Guinea; the lifestyles of the English and the Iroquois. Societies that flourished in the Arctic, the Rain Forest and the Desert are re-evaluated alongside those of the ancient river-valleys of Mesopotamia, Egypt and China, where civilization is conventionally supposed to have started. In this book the search for civilization leads not to Imperial Rome, Enlightenment Paris and Renaissance Florence but rather to the Sahara of the Dawada people, the Aleut Islands of the icy northern Pacific, and the Indian Ocean where the Oran Laut 'boat people'. (source)
Readers of Jared diamond’s work will find some similarities between the approaches of the two authors, although Fernández-Armesto focuses more on the physical geography of environments while Diamond is looking more at ecologies and resources set. Both scholars, however, make us think about our species’ past in terms of its interaction with the world around it, rather than as an isolated force moving though the world, and in today’s world, where our interactions with the world may very well put an end to the future of our species, that’s an important paradigm shift.

Fernández-Armesto is more than an environmental historian, though – he is also a raconteur, and his discussions of each of the civilisations included in this volume contain fascinating bits of information about the people, places and times, small exemplars of the cultures he explores that make even those societies most separated in time and space from the modern developed nations his readers most likely inhabit seem vivid and immediate.

From my point of view, Fernández-Armesto’s argument becomes problematic when he goes beyond categorising civilisations by their physical environments and seems to place greater value on those civilisations that have more completely altered their environments to meet the needs and preferences of humans:
Civilization makes its own habitat. It is civilized in direct proportion to its distance, its difference from the unmodified natural environment.
The degree of civilisation thus becomes a measure of how much of a mark humanity has made on the environment. At the same time, the author is clearly aware that the transformation of environments can lead to catastrophes, resulting in a tension between his admiration for the most transformative of civilisations and the unavoidable realisation that without sustainability, transformation is ultimately a dead end.

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The Great Transformation, Karen Armstrong

Karen Armstrong is one of the best contemporary thinkers and communicators on the subject of religion and its place in human thought, culture, history and politics. Some of her other books – notably The Battle for God: Fundamentalism in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, A History of God: From Abraham to the Present, the 4000 Year Quest for God and Holy War: The Crusades and Their Impact on Today's World – are, in my opinion, essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the context in which a great many of the important social, cultural and political trends and events of our time must be situated.

This is one of her more scholarly and historical works – it’s more about the development of the religious impulse in humanity from its beginning expressions to the foundations of the major religious traditions of history and the present than about how those traditions might affect us today. In this book, Armstrong sets the stage for, and carries the reader through, the Axial Age among the peoples of four distinct regions, tracing the origins and early developments of Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India; monotheism in Israel; and philosophical rationalism in Greece.

It’s an ambitious project that, by its very size, limits the depth of historical detail that Armstrong is able to provide. Also, one can, I think, legitimately raise some questions about the validity of the concept of the Axial Age as originally developed by German philosopher Karl Jaspers. For example, I don’t accept that only these four cultures developed religious traditions that exhibit “Axial” characteristics, as Jaspers posited and Armstrong has supported by examining only these four in her book. To quote a brief and lucid summary of Armstrong’s characteristics of Axial Age religions:
What are these radical principles of the Axial Age? First, the ability to recognize the divine in both the other and oneself, along with a "likening" of the other to oneself—an empathy later to be called "The Golden Rule." Second, the rise of introspection and self-discovery over external ritual and magic. Third, the recognition of the inevitability of suffering and the development of "spiritual technologies" for transcending it. Fourth, the capacity to see things as they really are—a realism terribly undervalued in our own time. Fifth, the spread of knowledge, beyond the confines of an elite, to ordinary folk. Sixth, an awareness of the limitations of human knowledge. Review by Michael Alec Rose

While these were certainly a part of the early development of the religions that Armstrong, following Jaspers, addresses, I am hesitant to accept the notion that these qualities did not develop as part of the religious thought, life and traditions of other cultures, both before and after the great ripple of the Axial age transformations.

As an animist, I was also annoyed by the argument that religious thought and experience based in an animist religious or spiritual tradition is necessarily “magical,” which in this context implies pre-Axial and hence not “developed.” There’s a part of me that wonders whether Armstrong has unconsciously dismissed – as many scholars do – the spiritual history of people who did not build great civilisations, in Western terms.

However, while I have some concerns about what may have been left out of the picture, the book is nonetheless well worth reading for what it does contain – a comparative tracing of the origins and ideas of some of the key religious and philosophical traditions of human history.

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The sad truth I must face as someone who has tried to maintain a book journal for a year now is that I read too many books (at least for someone who wants to do something other than read, work, sleep and snuggle with my partner), which leaves me less time than most of them deserve to talk about them. Here are some very good books I read in this past year. I enjoyed and learned greatly from them all.

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L'Overture and the San Domingo Revolution, C.L.R. James

This book has been called a masterpiece of Marxist historical analysis, the best account of the Haitian (San Domingo) Revolution of 1791-1803 ever written, a seminal text in the study of the African diaspora, and a good many other fine things. It is not an easy read, and it certainly helps to be familiar with the course of events of the French Revolution (as a French colony and a major link in the African slave trade for the French empire, the course of the revolution in San Domingo was inevitably affected by events within Revolutionary France and by its relationships with the United States, Britain, and Spain). But it’s a good read.

Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith

This is an immensely important book. Lest my simple words fail to express how important it is, I will instead point to some reviews.
I am most intrigued by the simplicity with which Smith links sexual violence to land to bodies to spirituality, in such a way that you can see the cause and effect of colonization on each link which then influence the other links. It is a circle that is hard-pressed to be broken or to know where to begin the healing and repair. What makes Smith's text so powerful is her illustration of a cycle of violence and genocide that has a long history and what looks like a long future, especially when colonial attitudes of violence, rape, and power are being internalized in our Native communities. "All women of color," Smith notes, "live in the dangerous intersections of gender and race." Megan L. MacDonald, American Studies Program, Purdue University

Conquest examines the relationship between the violence of state institutions and experiences of interpersonal violence. Smith argues that a culture reliant upon dominance and intimidation for social cohesion will inevitably result in violence within interpersonal relationships. Through a series of thematic chapters, Smith demonstrates how people of colour, and Aboriginal peoples specifically, have been further victimized by the state through racist and sexist policies and surveillance structures that maintain control over every aspect of their lives. Zoe Aarden and Deborah Simmons

The Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada, ed. Benjamin Drew

During the 1850s, the American abolitionist Benjamin Drew travelled to various communities in Upper Canada (now, roughly, southern Ontario) collecting accounts from people who had escaped slavery in the U.S. and settled in Canada to avoid being captured and returned (including Harriet Tubman). Some of these narratives discuss the conditions under which they lived prior to their escape; others simply recount the flight to Canada and their experiences on settling in a new country. The accounts are fascinating, sometimes harrowing. One element that struck me in many accounts is that the narrators did not try to pretend that they did not experience racism in Canada, but they did almost universally agree that this was not a matter of great concern to them; they appeared to believe that in Canada there were laws that would protect them – or in the worst case, allow them redress – should they suffer harm from any racist acts. Another element was the frequent insistences that virtually all the refugees they knew, including themselves, had been able to make good livings and support themselves and their families, and to live temperate and law-abiding lives. The book’s introduction suggests that the assertions of self-sufficiency may have been in part a response to various undertakings in the northern US at the time, some of them fraudulent, to collect money that would supposedly be sent to Canada to help support refugees, while both arguments could have been intended to counter racist propaganda arguments from Southern slave owners that Blacks needed the institution of slavery to protect them from themselves.

Memoirs of a Race Traitor, Mab Segrest

Recounting the experiences of a white Southern-born lesbian doing anti-racist work during the 70s and 80s in the American South, the book puts a primary focus on race issues, but doesn’t forget how gender and sexual preference issues intersect with them. An interesting and honest book, and one that I found personally interesting – as a white queer who was involved in the late 70s and early 80s in a coalition of people from both the black and queer communities fighting against one of the KKK’s perennial attempts to establish a greater presence in Nova Scotia. Very different situations, circumstances, histories and personalities involved, but just enough of a similarity that it struck me close to home at some points.

My Dangerous Desires, Amber Hollibaugh

An excellent collection of Hollibaugh's writing (with a foreword by Dorothy Allison!), with essays and interviews that address various aspects of the relationships between class, gender, sexuality, political activism, and desire from the perspective of a working-class femme lesbian activist and sex worker, among other things. Many of these essays are deeply personal, grounding the theoretical concepts she is exploring in an analysis of her own roots, influences and life journey. Some of the pieces are conversations with other writers, such as Deirdre English, Gayle Rubin, Jewelle Gomez, and Cherrie Moraga, including the groundbreaking "What We're Rollin' Around in Bed With."

Talking about a Revolution, South End Press Collective (ed.)

A collection of interviews with some of America’s truly great radical left activists and intellectuals – Michael Albert, Noam Chomsky, Barabara Ehrenreich, bell hooks, Peter Kwong, Winona LaDuke, Manning Marable, Urvashi Vaid and Howard Zinn – about their experiences and hopes for progressive social movements in America and about the spirit of revolution. Much food for thought if you aspire to be a revolutionary, in any sense of the word.

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I just finished reading Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Garry Wills' A Necessary Evil: A History of American Distrust of Government. I had hoped that the book would help me to understand why there is such a massive degree of mistrust of government - and not just mistrust of a government, or a particular form of government, but mistrust of government itself as a means of regulating human society - in American culture.

Well, it doesn't really look into that, but it is a very detailed examination of the struggle between pro-government and anti-government forces during the process of the establishment of the American Constitution, and of the history of various kinds of anti-governmental thought and action in America since that time. A bit too detailed for me, I must admit - I skimmed some of the lengthier discussions of what various drafters of various articles, clauses and amendments thought various other drafters of same wanted or did not want to have happen.

The basic gist of Wills' argument appears to be, however, that the first reaction of the revolutionary-minded colonial leaders during the American Revolution was that they wanted to have as little government as possible, and that they wanted what little government that was necessary to be locally-based, run by non-professionals, populist, highly participatory and subject to extensive control by the people - which was to be done by such means as having all governmental functions done in committee of the whole and by having very short term, rotation of terms, and the like.

However, within a few years, it became very obvious to most that this made government largely unworkable, and so when it came time to draft the constitution, most framers were actually trying to prepare a fairly pro-government constitution that would allow for a more efficient, centrally-based and professional government that delegated governmental functions to various branches and agencies, many of whom would not be elected nor a part of the committee of the whole.

Wills argues that over the years since, the mythology of government in the US has reversed the intents of the framers of the Constitution, creating the belief that they were engaged in creating a government that would be deliberately inefficient due to all of these supposedly built-in checks and balances, when in fact the framers were trying to do the opposite. He describes a process in which, over the past 200 years or so, those who hold anti-governmental values have managed to create a mythology in which it was the anti-governmental faction that ended up having the most influence on the Constitution, where it is believed that the intent behind the language of the Constitution favours anti-governmental values, and in which the various forces of anti-governmentalism since the establishment of the US government have been the heroes. It's fascinating to look at this process of myth-building, but alas, I still remain as ignorant as ever about why Americans are so prone to this particular myth.

Wills also spends some time on what he describes as the myth of the Minuteman - the idea that every - or almost every - American home at the time of the Revolution had guns and that the men who served as irregulars were experienced and accomplished marksmen. Wills says that, on the contrary, many American families had no guns, that a large proportion of the guns they did own were obsolete and in poor repair, and that most of the Minutemen were very poor shots. Later in the book, Wills also spends some time demolishing the myth of the gun-slinging West.

For me, however, the most thought-provoking element was one which did not appear to be a conscious theme within Wills' argument. It was just there, mentioned in almost every discussion of both the process of creating and developing the American Constitution and of the aspects of the political history of the U.S. that Wills covers in his book, but never analysed in itself.

That element is the importance and magnitude of the role played by the insistence of the Southern states that slavery be protected and preserved. This really is institutionalised racism at its extreme - the structure of the Constitution itself is shaped by the necessity of creating a political and legal system that will support the enslavement of human beings.

Maybe he didn't mention it because everyone in the U.S. knows that the drafters knowingly agreed to place language intended to support slavery in the Constitution, and that future politicians knowingly agreed to keep it there and buttress it with other language of similar intent, but I'd never realised before how much of an influence this issue has had, not just on the history, but on the very structure of the American state.

All in all, an interesting book in a number of ways, just not the book I wanted it to be.
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Rebels, Reds, Radicals: Rethinking Canada's Left History by Ian MacKay.

This is actually an introductory volume to a planned multi-volume history of the Left in Canada, and as a good introductory volume to any scholarly work of considerable scope, it's part discussion of the author's intended methodology, and part overview of what he plans to explore in greater detail in the volumes to come.

What makes me look forward with considerable anticipation to the planned history is the author's broad and hopeful definition of what the Left is:

To be a leftist - a,k,a, socialist, anarchist, radical, global justice activist, communist, socialist-feminist, Marxist, Green, revolutionary - means believing, at a gut level, "It doesn't have to be this way." Vivre autremont - Live otherwise! Live in another way! - was a slogan used by one Quebec radical group in the 1970s. Reasoning Otherwise was the slogan of William Irvine, the legendary Prairie socialist. Words like this are inscribed on the heart of every leftist.

Taking as his range, then, the history of Canadians who have looked at poverty, injustice, oppression, inequity throughout our history and said "It doesn't have to be this way." MacKay has identified what he refers to as "five major left formations, " some of which overlap in time to some extent, that make up the history of the Canadian left movement:

1. 1890-1919, a period of focus on social evolution, where not only Marx but Bellamy and Spencer and the Christian socialists were the major theorists and socialism "was defined as the applied science of social evolution"

2. 1917-1939, the period where the Comintern had its greatest influence on the Left in Canada and socialism became "more tightly defined as revolutionary seizure of power by a working class under the leadership of a vanguard party" - a Marxist-Leninist party

3. 1935-1970, a time of radical planners, parliamentary politics, the establishment of the leftist political parties (the CCF, then the NDP), in which socialism was defined as a movement "aiming at national economic and social management executed by a bureaucratic planning state answerable to parliament"

4. 1965-1980, the infusion of the New Left into Canadian social movements, which resulted in varied grassroots liberation movements focused around not only class but race and gender, which brought about the Quiet Revolution in Quebec, and which brought the concept of individual liberation to the socialist message

5. 1967-1990, a feminist-socialist movement that addressed women's liberation from oppression as a primary, if not the primary oppression and developed social critiques of the family and gender roles

According to MacKay, development of a sixth formation is underway, consisting of "Canadian participation in a global social justice movement the resists the planetary hegemony of capitalism and argues for locally controlled societies and economies consistent with the survival of humanity on Earth."

Despite the heavy dose of theory in this volume, it is in itself a good overview of the story of the left in Canada, and it's a good read if you enjoy political history and theory. There are nuggets of interesting information and pertinent quotations scattered throughout, to enliven the theory, for instance, this comment concerning the Regina Manifesto, presented at the founding convention of the CFF: "It may well be the only manifesto in the world socialist tradition that demands both the eradication of capitalism and the provision of railway level crossings."

One of the quotations I found most pertinent to today's situation, especially as regards the muscle-bound Christianity we are seeing more and more of in the U.S., is a comment by Eugene Forsey:

Until Christians learn to understand and apply the lessons of Marxism they cannot enter into the Kingdom of Heaven - nor, probably, can any one else.


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